Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review #5 – The Scarlet Gospels

I never liked horror growing up, but back in 2012 my friend in Alaska convinced me to read more horror and less urban fantasy. Since then, I’ve been slowly dipping my toe in the genre one spine tingling book at a time. This Book Monday I’m going over the last horror book I read, The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker.

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The Scarlet Gospels was released in 2016, and follows the story of the Hell Priest (Pinhead), as he attempts to use magic against unseen enemies while being hunted by Henry D’Amour. D’Amour, a supernatural detective, has to find out what the cenobite is up to before it’s too late for our world, Heaven and Hell.

I’m coming at this review as someone who’s only ever seen the first Hell Raiser movie, so I’m leaving out how a couple of backstory points were lost on me since I hadn’t read the previous books in this universe. That being said, I could still read the book without feeling completely left in the dark, which I think is a great point about this novel. It’s enjoyable for its new audience while still playing to old plots.

The first thing I noticed about this book was that the over all feel of the novel wasn’t horror. Sure some of it was gory and had unsettling imagery, but as a reviewer on Amazon put it, it felt more like a Buffy the Vampire episode than something that was supposed to be a terrifying walk through Hell.

That’s not to say I agree with all of the points in that one star review. It was still enjoyable to see a demon rebel against Hell. Demons are constantly at war with angels, but when they butt heads with one another, it’s always more enjoyable to me. I also enjoyed the banter from the human characters and found it to be a good example of how some people use humor when faced with something they don’t feel like they can comprehend.

I was disappointed with the sudden drop in the Hell Priest’s character, however. For most of the book, he’s violent, but charismatic. While he enjoys pain, there’s something almost Hannibal Lector about him, but then there’s a sudden shift where he becomes so outraged that he lashes out like an indignant child. He doesn’t just take joy in pain, he rushes the abuse of several characters just because he’s mad. It happened so suddenly, I was completely pulled out of the narrative.

I also didn’t care for D’Amour’s character in the final act either. It feels like the first part of the book was written with one plot in mind, and the second was a completely different story. The character went from the cold hardened detective of all things damned. to just another noir inspired cop.

While the characters seemed to fall to the back burner, the plot was fantastic. Anything that reminds me of Dante’s Inferno gets a gold star in my book, and that’s exactly what the last half of the book was. I didn’t care what happened to the characters, I just wanted more descriptions about how Barker envisioned Hell.

That being said, there were a few ex machina points at the that seemed WAY too convenient for someone of Barker’s writing history to be guilty of. For example, they’re lost in the middle of a desert and a car happens to come out of nowhere to help them. Maybe I missed something, or maybe there was something in another book that had more to do with this, but I was left scratching my head going, what the heck? Many of the characters’ journey to get to the final climax point were just too convenient and it just felt like Barker was tired of telling their POV and only wanted to focus on The Hell Priest’s.

Over all, I was torn over what rating to give this book. On one hand, the characters were much more entertaining the first half of the book, but the plot was slow, but then on the other the second half was a great story with lack luster characters. I’d say buy it in paperback if you happen to see it, but don’t go out of your way to pick it up.

 

Did you enjoy The Scarlet Gospels? Have you read other works by Clive Barker? How does it hold up? Comment below and let me know!

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Book Review #4 – The Megarothke

I was six years old when I was inexplicably allowed to watch Alien. I say inexplicably because I grew up in a strict house, where science fiction and fantasy weren’t always allowed. When I ask my mom how I was able to watch this film, and so young, she usually scoffs and says, a bit disdainfully, “Don’t look at me, your father liked that crap.”

Whatever the reason for me getting to watch Alien at such a young age, it sparked a love of science fiction horror in me. While I still watch many movies and short films in this genre, I’ve strayed from reading it. I have to admit, I haven’t picked up a book that wasn’t high/urban fantasy in years and it wasn’t until fellow writer and friend, Robert Ashcroft contacted me asking if I’d like a copy of his first book did I get back into reading sci fi horror.

And damn, after such a long drought from this genre, “The Megarothke” welcomed me home with open, bloody, mechanical arms.

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The Megarothke is set in 2048, seven years after “The Hollow Wars”, and follows Theodore “Theo” Adams as he and the last 50k people claw their way through a war with machines just to stay alive. There’s a beast lurking just below the city of Los Angeles, and the small team set out to search and destroy the Megarothke will do what it takes to save the last of humanity.

Through a series of time jumps and unsettling quotes at the beginning of each chapter, the story of how The Hollow Wars” came to be, how the world has changed and just who or what the Megarothke is, unfolds with every spine tingling chapter.

What did I love about this book?

Ashcroft’s ability to build a solid, believable world, interwoven with a complex timeline is well above par. He doesn’t waste time going into too much depth, or leaving things out, and avoids flowery language to try and get some of his more complex ideas across. Not only does this make the reader fall into the world of The Megarothke, but it makes it easy to relate to Theo. While Theo is intelligent, he’s an average guy and he explains things as such. This trait also creates a great conflict later, when you’re introduced to his wife, and you get an amazing clash between characters.

I also enjoy how believable everything is. It’s not too much of a stretch to see certain aspects of Ashcroft’s world coming to pass, and since I’m a firm believer in “science fiction could one day become science fact”, it’s an unsettling black mirror held up to today’s society. There’s a fine line between too much technology and just the right amount, and Ashcroft makes the reader ask “How far is too far?” And let me be clear to note here, I don’t mean when it comes to a more accepting transworld, as there are several trans characters in this novel, but the use of technology until it swallows everything that makes us human.

Ashcroft’s military and philosophy knowledge also extremely evident. There isn’t one scene that makes me go “Wait a second, how real is that?”. It’s evident he’s a man with a military background, as well as being someone who knows what their talking about when it comes to philosophy.

Lastly, I loved the dark humor salt and peppered in throughout the novel. I even laughed outright at a few parts and scared my dog as I read this into the long hours of the night. And yes. I did in fact stay up past midnight just to read this.

What might not work for other readers?

While I don’t mind a story that starts at one point and then jumps back a few years, I know a few readers who have a problem with this form of storytelling. I think Ashcroft handled his timeline beautifully, and if people who don’t like “7 years earlier” trope can get over this, they’ll have a great time.

Overall Rating?

I would most definitely buy this book in hard back, and go out of my way to get it signed.

 

You’ll like The Megarothke if…

you’re fans Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson, Westworld, Blade Runner/it’s source material Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Black Mirror, or if you enjoy the of the work that comes out of Oats Studios (in fact, I’d be the biggest supporter if they made a film adaptation of this with Ashcroft).

Keep your eye out for this fantastic novel, coming out in February 2018. You’ll be up all night just to try and finish this refreshing addition to the Science Fiction genre.

What’s your favorite “How To” writing book?

I’ve been picky about what “how to” writing books I buy lately. Most of them are less about story structure, and more about the nitty gritty parts of writing.

Here are some of my favorite books on writing, but I’m in the market for more. Have any suggestions that improved your writing in any particular area?

16681583_1300483536656800_6852415959332937314_n1. The Emotion Thesaurus
Good for – writing character feelings through their body language.
Lacking in – For a thesaurus, it doesn’t list off as many emotions as I’d hope.

2. Writer’s Guide to Character Traits 
Good for – Nailing down Character behavior regarding their mental status.
Lacking in – It’s one sided and stereotypical at times.

3. Writing from the Senses
Good for – Writing more expressive and meaningful scenes.
Lacking in – It’s a little “How To” and repeats what I’ve read in other books.

4. Plot Vs. Character
Good for – Helps see things from a plot/character writer’s perspective.
Lacking in – Not sure. I really enjoyed this one.

5. Bullies Bastards and Bitches
Good for – Creating fun, deep, well rounded villains.
Lacking in – Can read a little Creative Writing 101.

6. Word Painting
Good for – Explains writing descriptively better than Writing from the Senses.
Lacking in – Not a whole lot. I really don’t have any complaints about this book.

 

Book Review #3 – Crimson Lake

When I read the work of a suspense author, I always have one worry. Is this story going to be the same type of tropes thrown into the same scenario? As much as I loved Hades, this question sat in the back of my mind. I should’ve known better, as Candice Fox did not disappoint.

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If you read my last review of her work, you’ll know I’m a big fan. So much so, in fact, shortly after I finished Hades, I ordered Eden, pre ordered Fall, and have my eye out for Never Never, a novel Fox wrote with James Patterson. When Fox contacted me with a chance to read Crimson Lake before it was released in the US, I have to admit, I might’ve fangirled just a little bit.

Crimson Lake is a small town in Cairns in Queensland, Australia, where Ted Conkaffey’s life is in ruins. Accused of kidnapping and torturing a young girl, he’s a retired cop with a tarnished name. He’s set on hiding from the world when he’s set up to met with Amanda Pharrell, a P.I. with murder in her past. The two begin their working relationship hunting for missing author, Jake Scully, under the eyes of a town that’s waiting for them to slip up.

If there’s one thing I enjoyed most of this novel, it was the protagonist, Ted. His fall from grace creates tension in a way that many authors are unable to capture. Not only is the reader able to feel his despair and emptiness, but there’s also rage and fury. He spirals into a depression and Fox makes his PTSD from his trial and experiences vividly realistic. Through all of it, I was rooting for him to succeed.

Amanda wasn’t a character to sneeze at either. She keeps Ted constantly pushed outside his comfort zone, and the two dynamics play well off one another.

I will say this though. Fox created two of the most unlikable police officers I’ve ever read. If anyone was going to get pushed into a bog full of crocodiles, I wanted it to be those two.  But here’s the thing. I LOVED to hate them. They made my skin crawl with how much they antagonized Ted, and made for a constant reminder that Ted’s life was always in danger because of what he was accused of.

You can purchase Crimson Lake on Amazon and if you’re a suspense fan, I say add it to your reading list!

Book Review #2 – Hades

Occasionally, I find myself wandering down the paperback book aisle in the grocery store, just to see what’s there. Often times, I’m met with shirtless cowboys promising to sweep a gal off her feet, burly warriors in kilts with a woman tossed back in his arms, or old novels that sold well in their time that I either already have or didn’t want to read in the first place. I was pleasantly surprised to find something different when I saw Hades. Something that wasn’t a romance. Something darker.

Hades tells the story of Frank Bennett, a detective with more than one skeleton in his closet and his new partner, Eden Archer. Dark haired, big eyed, and mysterious, Frank makes it his goal to figure Eden, and her brother Ethan, out.

When bodies stuffed in boxes turn up on the bottom of the ocean, Frank has to catch a killer while trying to uncover secrets from his partner’s past.

I’m going to tell you right off the bat, if you like Dexter, both as a television show and as a book, and/or anything Hannibal Lecter, this book is for you. For her debut novel, Candice Fox builds crime scenes with the best of them, and for an author’s debut novel, she blew me away.

The novel builds tension beautifully, and you can’t miss Fox’s sense of humor shining through Bennett. She knows when to throw in a dark joke, and captured the way cops act at a crime scene with an authenticity that many miss. Not only that, but Bennett’s a man’s man. Fox wasn’t afraid to make him an alpha male with more than one “meathead” layer. He knew what he was doing, but could rely on his smart, yet occasionally odd partner.

While I enjoyed Bennett, with his cocky attitude and a nose for trouble, I still found myself eager to get to the parts with Hades. An anti-hero with a soft spot for kids, Hades outshone every other character. He and Ethan, Eden’s somewhat unhinged brother, were by far my favorite to read about. And while I know I probably shouldn’t like Ethan, I enjoyed every action he took (even if I don’t condone them).

Eden spent most of the novel silently watching, or ignoring Bennett’s jabs, and I was left feeling like I never got past the surface of her character until the very end. That being said, this was due to the fact that everyone was an unreliable narrator when it came to her. Hades and Bennett both are outsiders to her world, and it wasn’t until the ending did Fox let a side of Eden come out that I was dying to learn more about. And really, I loved the way she slowly showed her hand. It kept me curious, and intrigued me enough to go out and buy the sequel, entitled Eden.

As for the writing itself, Fox knows how to craft a scene by focusing on the small details. When things are crumbling, sometimes quite literally, around the protagonists, Fox doesn’t focus on the blood or the violence. She writes about the flow of the hair as it halos around a young girl’s face or the light catching on something so small, it should’ve been missed. It creates a haunting image on the page that actually had me at one point go, “NO!”.

Overall, I’d buy Hades in a signed hardback edition, if I could track one down. That’s just how much I enjoyed it. While my husband is glad I’m done with this book (I have to admit, I had more than one outburst reading this book, and even forced him to listen to me read passages aloud), I’m not. I can’t wait to start the sequel, and say if you’re looking for a new author who’s been up and coming over the past three years, check out Hades.

Book Review – The Good Daughter

I’m going to be completely honest here. Women’s Fiction isn’t a genre I dive into very often, and as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve never read Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, or even Alexandra Burt’s first book Remember Mia

All that being said, I was not prepared for how much I enjoyed The Good Daughter.

 I’ll try to stay as spoiler free as possible, as each page turning chapter really should be left for the reader to enjoy

The Good Daughter takes you to the small town of Aurora, Texas, where Dahlia Whaler is on the hunt to discover who she is and what happened in her past. Right off the bat, I was captivated by Burt’s knowledge of Texas. She leaves you with the feeling of dust in your mouth and sun on your skin, where the summers are too hot for too long. It’s the perfect setting for missing women, murder, and a little bit of American folk magic.

It’s in Aurora that Dahlia tries to make sense of the images of her childhood. Pictures filled with a half mad mother, Memphis, stuffy cars, and run down “no-tell-motels”. With her mother’s mental health slipping, Dahlia’s starting to find cracks in her own foundation, leaving her to ask, is she going crazy, too? While she’s trying to come to terms with this possibility, there are point of view switches from her to Memphis, and two women from the past. Quinn, a woman in a loveless marriage, and Aella, someone who could easily be described as a back wood, Texas conjurer. 

Where I think the book really shined was during Aella’s story. Everything about this character left me wanting more, and I would love to read a book about just her. Burt knows her folklore and Aella’s, for lack of a better term, magic is dark, gritty and is reminiscent of what you’d find in a Southern Gothic horror.

The chapters with Aella and Quinn interacting were by far the most enjoyable and made Quinn the second most likely character to steal the show. Quinn’s desperation and Aella’s strong will made for well crafted scenes with dialogue that’ll make you question who really controls the world. Fate, God, or something darker?

I do wonder if Burt enjoyed writing her third person perspectives more so than Dahlia’s first person? Reading about Quinn’s life, Aella’s private workings, or even Memphis’ mental instabilities had smoother transitions and tended to read clearer. That being said, Dahlia’s unreliable narrative did keep me guessing for most of the book. 

The relationship between Memphis and Dahlia was another part of this book that I think a lot of readers will enjoy. Not every mother daughter relationship is sunshine and roses, and sometimes the child has to be more of the parent. Burt captures the strange dynamics between the two and anyone who’s been in Dahlia’s shoes will be able to relate.

I also appreciate the parallels between the drama in Dahlia’s life, and her hunt for who she is. Dahlia’s past is interwoven with a search for the identity of a Jane Doe, the struggle with a sad excuse for a dog, and an array of missing women that Dahlia finds herself in the middle of. Each side story and subplot ties into Dahlia’s life, and if you overlook them, you’ll be missing a major part of the book.

My only wish was that the ending hadn’t felt so rushed. Just as the book hit it’s climax, it ended. I was left with a “that’s it?” feeling, in spite of how much I liked how some of the characters’ stories were wrapped up. The suspense that held you throughout the novel slowly loses steam, and I wanted more. That being said, I’ll definitely be giving The Good Daughter another read, and have already shared my copy with a few other friends.

In the end, I loved The Good Daughter.  It made me rethink the Women’s Fiction/Suspense genre, and was enough to make me add similiar books to my reading pile. A must read for people who like stories about self discovery through a dark past. 

 17190721_833559936796557_3561210457375346851_n.jpgWant to get your hands on The Good Daughter

Buy it on Amazon today.

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